EU Initiatives and Member State Actions: The Battle Against Single-Use Plastics

Plastics are widespread in our economy known as cheap and durable. However, their increasing popularity has also led to an increasing amount of plastic waste, consequently affecting the environment and health. In response, the European Commission presented a strategy for plastics, which was welcomed by the Parliament in a resolution adopted in September 2018.

As part of the European Green Deal, introduced in 2019, 55% of plastic packaging waste is to be recycled by 2030 (European Parliament, 2020). Since then the EU has taken more action against plastic pollution by implementing the Single-Use Plastics Directive, effective since July 3, 2021. These regulations prohibit the sale of single-use plastic items like plates, cutlery, straws, balloon sticks, and cotton buds within EU Member States. (European Commission, n.d.)

But how did the European Union position itself as a pioneer in regulating plastic bans and environmental protection, and what are the impacts of its measures on global environmental standards?

In recent years, the European Union has taken a leading role in fighting against plastic pollution and environmental protection. Through a series of initiatives and regulations, including the banning of certain single-use plastic products, promoting recycling, and introducing producer responsibilities, the EU has established itself as a true trendsetter in this field.  Making environmental issues and sustainability one of its top priorities and raising awareness of the negative impacts of plastic waste on the environment and biodiversity has led to decisive action. A notable feature of the EU is its collaborative approach. Member states work together to develop and implement uniform standards and guidelines, ensuring a coherent approach across the EU.

Estonia, France, Greece, Ireland, and Sweden are the only countries to have adopted all the measures needed to implement the Single-Use Plastics Directive fully and adapted them successfully to their country’s needs. Whereas, according to the follow up report released in July 2021, many member countries are failing to implement the directive correctly or at all although it has been some time since the ban was introduced in 2019. (Murray and Gillman, 2021)

As one of the select group of nations that have fully implemented the directive’s measures, Sweden stands out as a noticeable exemplar. While some member states have encountered difficulties in the correct implementation of the single-use plastics ban since its inception in 2019, Sweden’s proactive and thorough adoption of these regulations serves as a model for effective execution and commitment to sustainable environmental practices.

After including the Single-Use Plastics directive into the Swedish legislation on November 2021, Sweden has chosen to take additional national measures that do not come from the directive directly.

The Swedish Environmental Protection Agency has the authority to issue regulations on exceptions to the ban of disposable cups containing more than 15% plastic, evaluating if there are special reasons and has therefore investigated what needs there could be for exceptions to the ban. Therefore, the study did not reveal any compelling reasons that would require the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency to formulate regulations allowing exceptions to the ban based on special reasons identified in the research. By avoiding exemptions, they effectively pressure companies into taking action.

The ban applies from January 1, 2024 and will concern businesses who sell food and drinks in disposable food containers and cups. These businesses must offer the opportunity to have drink and food served in reusable cups and food containers. Sweden aims to reduce the usage of single-use plastic cups and food containers by 50% by 2026, as compared to the consumption levels registered in 2022. All businesses engaged in supplying or using these single-use products mentioned are ordered to actively pursue these targets. (Naturvardsverket, 2023)

In alignment with the EU’s commitment to environmental protection, policies have been authorized to enforce reductions in single-use plastic consumption across member states. In some states, a plastic tax will be introduced in 2024 to hold companies accountable who import and sell plastic containing packaging in that country.

Furthermore, a concise table captures the latest measures taken by EU member states to reduce single-use plastics. This compilation reflects collective alignment with EU environmental goals while highlighting approaches tailored to individual country contexts.

EU Member States (including England)Specific Measures
BelgiumSince January 2023, there has been a ban on light plastic carrier bags. , with the exception of very light plastic bags, Disposable plastic cups are banned, with the exception of paper cups with a coating that prevents the cardboard from absorbing the liquid.
CroatiaFrom July3, 2024, products that have a stopper or lid made of plastic will be banned.
EnglandSince October 2023, there has been a ban on all types of single-use plastic, including biodegradable, compostable, and recycled, and items wholly or partly made from plastic, including coating or lining.
GermanyOn January 1, 2024, a plastic tax will be introduced and will be payable for the first time in 2025 per kg.
IrelandFrom July3, 2024, beverage containers up to 3 liters in size will be banned unless a cap is attached to the main part of the container. From January 2030 on, these bottles must contain a minimum of 30% recycled plastic.
LuxembourgBy 2025, single-use packaging at festivals and packaging for food deliveries will need to be recyclable.
NetherlandsFrom January 1, 2024, there will be a ban on plastic cutlery and disposable tableware in the hospitality industry, except those with up to 5% plastic that can be 100% recycled.
PolandFrom July 1, 2024, rules aimed at eliminating single-use plastics New fees for businesses that: supply food and drinks for takeout in single-use packages and sell SUPs to consumers.
RomaniaSince Jan. 2023 Plastic Tax rate of RON 2 (approx. EUR 0.4)/kilogram)
SpainSince January 2023, the plastic tax for the import and sale of packaging that contains plastic has been set at EUR 0.45 per kilogram of non-recycled plastic.

Table created by Pando EP Technology based on sources shown below, January 2, 2024

The collective efforts of EU member states, as shown by diverse measures across countries, underline the commitment towards reducing single-use plastics. Looking ahead, continuous attention and innovation will be crucial in achieving the ambitious targets set.

As we navigate towards a more environmentally conscious era, it is important for individuals, businesses, and legislators to actively contribute to these initiatives. Every action leads to a healthier planet for future generations.